I was cleaning out my closet last weekend, going through the remnants of past versions of myself, when I stumbled upon an old wallet from nearly four years ago. Its bulk spoke to me of the weight I carried around then and, as I unclasped it, I discovered the stack of papers and cards that it held.
I fished out an old library card, an expired Visa, several receipts that made me laugh out loud and a computer print out I’d nearly forgotten I had.
Wrinkled, yellowed and completely smudged was a “reminder note” I had placed there in 2007. It was a list I had created after my therapist asked me a very simple question about the people that were in my life:
“How do you know that they’re safe?”
I shook my head, confused by the question, and asked her what she meant.
“Well, how do you decide if someone is a safe person to allow into your life?”
Again, I faltered. Until that point, I’d pretty much welcomed anyone into my life that expressed a desire to be there. I felt grateful that someone wanted to be my friend, and even more so if a guy wanted to be romantically involved with me.
Without judgment she gently prodded: “Do you look at, assess and decide if someone is a person you actually want in your life?”
It hit me hard that the answer was a resounding “no.”
Prior to that conversation, I’d had no guidelines for evaluating new friends, much less romantic relationships. And so she tasked me to create a list – a list of the qualities that made me feel safe in relationships of any kind.
The print out of this list was what I encountered on this yellowing piece of paper. It was such a revelation and beautiful reminder.
The words staring back up at me were:
- Congruent: They do what they say they’re going to do
- Empathetic: They understand their impact on others and act accordingly
- Goes Slowly: The relationship builds slowly, with time to get to know each other
- Reciprocal: They put as much time and effort into the relationship as I do
- Transparency: They don’t appear to be hiding anything and are straightforward in how they communicate
- Honesty: They speak honestly and openly about what’s happened and how they feel
- Committed: They are committed, available and desirous of being in a relationship with me
I’m now 33 and remember what it was like negotiating the world of relationships from a “healthier” place for the first time at 27. I recall pulling out that card often when I met someone new, figuring out where I felt things fell on this scale. Strange how all these qualities still ring true, and that while I’m better at evaluating it from an intuitive place now, I can certainly use the reminder in emotionally-charged situations.
And in looking at this list with new eyes, the other piece that stood out to me was simply asking if I interacted with myself in this way. Am I “congruent, empathetic, go slowly, reciprocal, transparent, honest and committed” to myself? And while I’m at it, do I give the same back to others?
I feel like my younger self sent me a tap on the shoulder via my closet clean out. I suppose she’s helping me deepen some ideas I flushed out at a younger age that continue to be important and relevant.
I hate blogs that ask questions for the sole purpose of getting a response, but I am really curious as to what makes up your list of “safe people” and/or if you believe in such a thing.